Updated: 07/06/13 : 09:46:09
Printable Version   Bookmark and Share Share This


On the Horizon: Night Watchman State

By Jim O'Sullivan

Not too long ago Minarchists were merely tolerated in good mannered company: today they are the very pillars of society.

Over 10 years ago Rita Kelly and I were given a special “audience” with visiting Toaiseach Bertie Ahearn. We were part  of a local community group trying to prevent the privatisation of the refuse collection services---or at the very least have waivers established for pensioners and others on very low incomes. Our approach was relatively straight-forward—providing services free at the point of delivery was the best way to ensure that all citizens  could access such services. In the broader scheme of things such a system also greatly enhanced "social inclusion."

Bertie was perky and welcoming---he explained what government was up to by pointing out that the policy was to cut tax on income which would see people “left with more of their own money to spend as they saw fit”. Bertie offered the view that in this scenario it was reasonable for government to expect that citizens would “look after themselves more” When we enquired as to what would befall those who could not afford to buy into that, Bertie actually fell silent for a noticeable period before completely changing the conversation and reciting an obvious spin-doctor ramble about how well the country was doing and “sure wasn’t everyone benefiting”. The audience ended abruptly but we had glimpsed what really lay behind the policy of his government---Minarchism.

Subsequently vital services, from Health to Social Housing to Care of the elderly and children, were, at every opportunity, turned over to the for-profit sector as government retreated from its role as guarantors of access to social primary goods for each citizen.

This is no foundation on which to build a decent place and when the Celtic Tiger hit the buffers and shattered, the extent of the rollback of government as a contributing factor was exposed for all to see. The Government had become so hands-off that small groups of elites were literally doing as they liked in every sector of society. People were not regarded as citizens but rather no more than potential customers to be exploited. Society, in any real or meaningful way, had ceased to exist.

When the people got the opportunity they voted for those who promised that things would be different--- no more money-grubbing, a fairer place, a more just place with the vulnerable cared for----maybe even a Republic.

Last weekend saw the beginning of Summer---the silly season. It also saw a number of news items hit the media that must surely have wiped the mist from the eye of any individual still harbouring any expectation that the new coalition of Fine Gael and Labour would be different when it came to nurturing individualism at the expense of social justice, fairness and cohesion.

Initially a couple of “small” issues reached the grapevine which indicated that the push to create a Minarchist State has actually intensified. Minister Howlin confirmed that the sell-off of money spinner “The National Lottery” will mean “closely aligning the interests of the licensee and the State” What this means is that the money available to go towards good causes will reduce while at the same time the private Operator will be allowed to develop more TV and online “games”----more opportunities for people to gamble to make extra profit for the private entity. We are being presented with a coup that will cost the individual citizen more, will encourage gambling and will see more money sucked out of an already impoverished economy to nestle in the accounts of some off-shore Operator. The "Programme for Government" pledged to “begin mending the pieces of a fractured society, a broken economy and to provide a sense of collective hope in our shared future” Little did we know who we were expected to share that future with.

There is no sound or good reason for off loading the Lottery---other than to serve an ideology.

Then information leaked from Michael Noonan’s department---obviously feeling some heat over the failure to apply “ability-to-pay” protection in the Property Tax legislation---which sought to place the blame for this vulgar oversight onto the shoulders of “officials”.

“Internal records” are reported to show “officials warned” that if exemptions on financial hardship grounds were included it would result in a “flood of applications” for any such relief “making administration of the tax extremely difficult.”

But this is hardly plausible---are we to believe that government decided to levy a tax on persons they know cannot afford to pay it because to do otherwise would create administrative difficulties? Adding to the incredulity of this excuse is the fact that the UK runs a similar tax complete with safety net “credits” ---up to and including full exemption for the money poor---with no such difficulties.

The conclusion that ideology is at play here too is proven by simply looking at the “deferral” mechanism that is included in the legislation. This allows those existing at poverty levels to “defer” payment; however a 4% interest change is attached to the tax outstanding. This sees the poorest actually paying more tax than their wealthier neighbours and is in fact a penalty for being poor. The last time we saw that carry on was during the depths of the laissez-fares period of Victorian times---the golden age of Minarchism. (Under the Poor Laws a person was fined if found in a public place with no money on their person).

Another gem slipped out over the Bank Holiday weekend informed us that the €1 million monthly Prize Bond draw is to be dropped and replaced by a bi-monthly one. This cuts in half the prize money---which is offered instead of interest.

The decision was again taken by “officials” of the NTMA---we are told. A closer reading of the issue shows that the reason for the cut was a direct consequence of cutting by 40% all interest payable to savers in government run saving schemes. It is clear that once again ideology is forcing citizens to save in the private sector rather than use government schemes.
Then we had the horrors of RTE’s documentary, “A Breach of Trust” last Tuesday night and the Primetime report on the abuse of the elderly under the Home Care schemes--again being operated by for-profit entities. Not for the first time, and it won’t be the last either, we witnessed what happens when the profit motive is allowed to get involved in “caring”
The flurry of discussion after transmission of “A Breach of Trust” comprised solely of opinions on how to improve “training and regulation” in the for-profit sector. Government Ministers and spokespeople studiously avoided mentioning the real core issues---what happens when profit is the main objective and why do parents have no options anymore other than to use for-profit run crèches? The idea of supporting parents to rear children in their homes was never mentioned nor have we heard a whisper about the merits of a State run scheme attached to the school system---indeed the entire debate is focused on how to get for-profit provision to work.
The distressing report on the failures of the for-profit provided Home Care services for the elderly was met with the same fixed idea---its for-profit provision or none. And this despite what everything from experience over the past decade and more is screaming at us---the profit motive in the caring services not only does not work, it places the most vulnerable citizens in great danger of being neglected and/or abused. Caring needs well-trained and dedicated persons, rewarded appropriately for their time and skills---but no person or entity should make profit from it.
The change of government, far from changing direction, has seen us more firmly gripped then ever in the libertarian capitalist political philosophy of Minarchism. In this state, not only is the division along the socio-economic scale starker but those at the lower reaches are denied access to vital services and goods for want of money. Such vital services and goods are commoditised to be bought and sold to the highest bidder.
Perhaps the most urgent question now is, “How wide is the gap between Minarchy and anarchy?”